The most aptly named Ceren

This post is long overdue.

Eight years ago, I joined a tour to the Black Sea region of Turkey alone, and in the group were Ceren and Bariş. Since I was the only solo traveler, Ceren was very kind and invited me to join them at the dinning table, etc.

Their hospitality has passed down to the next generation. A week ago, her son, Toprak, has welcomed me to stay at their home for four days. We have spent a great time together doing many different things.

I am also glad to get to know Ceren much more. She is one of the most thoughtful, compassionate and helpful persons I know. I can’t thank her enough for helping me, from coming up with gifts ideas to translating at the barber shop. I won’t forget our conversations and the time we spent together.

I wish Ceren and her family the best in the years to come!

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Hats off to Daisuke Kinoshita


Dai, originally from Osaka, attended the same study abroad program in Spain I did in 2005. During the past 11.5 years after the program ended, he has worked in Madrid for some six years, in Japan in a completely different sector for a couple years, has traveled through India (for 2.5 months) and Korea and other places. After working at the same place in Japan for two years, he’s now taking a sabbatical and has just finished dual pilgrim: the Way of St. James and Kumnao Kodo in Japan.

I don’t meet a lot of people like Dai, who likes to see the world, to know people and to try new things. He values experience more than money. It’s very inspiring talking to him and reaffirming some believes and core values that we share. The biggest takeaway from our reunion is that regardless where we are, we have to keep looking for ways to make contributions.

I am very glad that Dai reached out when he was in Madrid, since we haven’t been in touch all these years.

Hats off to you, Dai!!!

P.S. Thanks Momita for taking photos during phonetic class back then XD

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Taking a Break from my Sabbatical


Taking a gap year traveling the world probably sounds very cool to most of you. Yet, it does get tiring after a while. I started my sabbatical in late March last year and started losing interest by October. However, since I had nowhere to return to, I just kept going. Hence, when a recruiter contacted me about a three-month contract with Electronic Arts in Madrid, I applied for the job without a second thought. I am glad that this opportunity came up, so that I can take a break from traveling, have my routine back (yes, swimming!), make some money and see how I like living in this city.

I started working last Monday, and things are so far so good. The office is like an ad agency: open space and double computer screens for each person (No Mac though.) It’s the toughest not to be able to use my personal mobil in the building for confidentiality reasons.

Although I don’t know my own team members yet, it’s easy to meet people and to get inside their circles. In the photo are my lunch buddies, all from different teams. There was a company pub quiz afterwork and we formed our team. Unfortunately, we didn’t win. But as one team member, Frederic, said, we weren’t the last neither, haha!

I haven’t been blogging as much as I thought I would during my sabbatical. I will try to write once in a while some travel stories. Until then, take care!

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Taking Sabbatical

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Some of you may wonder how I could manage to travel for over a year without a stable source of income. In fact, to live on savings was one of the major mental preparations I had to myself once I have decided to take a sabbatical. It has been stressful, but it has also been relatively easy for me to live beneath my means, because I never like shopping and am totally fine wearing the same clothes again and again. My skill set and interests also allow me to take up some freelance projects online, which certainly helped on my expenses.

Still, I have to say I am tired of seeing my savings dwindling =(

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Using Couchsurfing

My oldest sister is going to try Couchsurfing for the first time next month in Germany (Yay!), and we have had a brief chat about it. Since some friends have asked me how CS is like and what do I do to ensure safety, I guess I will share my approach here.

The kind of experience depends on what you want. I have been hosted for 12 times: one couch and 11 private rooms, have hung out with CSers three other times and have never done sexsurfing. All in all it has been a great experience, making friends with local people and learning about their cultures. I am still in touch with a few of them and their friends.

As for safety, I think it comes down to using your common sense. Being a single female traveler, these are things I pay attention to when looking for a host:
– Read thoroughly the user’s profile in order to get a sense of what kind of person he/she is.
– You may want to choose someone with compatible interests, but this is not one of my criteria. I had only 2 hosts who I found boring thus far =P
– Read as much references as I can so that I know what kind of experience to expect: just hang out for a few drinks, cooking together at home, outdoor activities, day trip etc. etc.
– There is an unwritten rule that when users didn’t have a good experience, they would rather not leave any reference than a negative one, unless it’s something very serious like violations. So, I’d select a host with more than four to five positive references.
– I avoid any host who any real negative comment. I said “real” because sometimes people left good comments while saying they would not stay with this host again. I suppose they took the question literally?
– I avoid male hosts who mention that they can offer massage.
– I avoid male hosts who share bed.
– I avoid male hosts with positive references from only/almost only females users.
– I avoid male hosts with positive references from only/almost only males users (and usually one or two negatives from females).

After sending request and getting an approval from the host, I would not confirm right away. Talk to the host about logistic or something, and you’d get a sense of how it’s interacting with this person. Is he/she very warm and welcoming, or a little more air-head?

I had two not-so-good experiences to date, but both times I sensed something when I was making arrangements with the hosts before my arrival. I chose not to think of the negatives; now I have learned to trust my instincts.

In short, I would recommend Couchsurfing if you like meeting new people, especially locals, and are not picky about the location and cleanliness of the accommodation.

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Where are you from?

_MG_5960retouched.jpg“Where are you from?” my high school classmate from eighteen years ago suddenly asked me when we were chilling at her apartment in Paris.


“Don’t think! Answer right off the top of your head!” my friend insisted.

“Well, it depends. If I want to get engaged in a conversation to the person who asked me the question, I would say ‘I was born in Hong Kong, but I have lived in the states for half of my life.’ And if I don’t feel like talking, I’d say ‘New York.'” I explained.

This has been my approach during my traveling the past year. Usually Europeans are more fascinated by the far East, with one exception: when I was on the bus from Paris to Rennes, I thought the guy sitting next to me – now a friend of mine – was weird, and so I told him I was from New York. He actually got intrigued as he is a musician, and it’s his dream to play music there XD

“Where are you from” used to be a tricky question for me, when I couldn’t relate to Hong Kong nor the states. And within the U.S., I found that most Americans refer to the previous city they stayed instead of their hometown, so in New York City, I used to tell people I was from San Francisco.

In the photo were Alberto and his brother in A Coruña, Spain, last October. It was taken after Alberto tried to photobomb. He chose the wrong day since I was very moody and was trying to get zen taking photos with my SLR camera. First, he tried to use broken English to get to know me, but I insisted in talking in Spanish. He asked me where I was from. Trusting my intuition, I played my New York card. Sure enough, he said “Oh, I thought you’d say something like Japan, Korea, China!” Then, he asked me for my name. I was tempted to say “Ching Chan Cheng” =P but indeed I answered “MARTA.” It’s tiring to deal with stereotypes, especially when I wanted to be alone. (And yes, he was more satisfied finding out that I was born in Hong Kong and I have a Cantonese name.)

I still like giving a long answer to the question “where are you from.” Oh, and when I was in Morocco, I found it more pleasant being asked “where are you from” instead of being yelled at “Japan!? China!?”

More on my name later…

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IMG_5627I got interviewed by three high schoolers for their project on “love” in the street in Fez one day. They asked me about the love from my parents, and here is a recap of what I told them:
My parents love me a lot and give me a lot of freedom. They respect my choice and let me follow my dream. For instance, I have been traveling alone for over a year, and they allow me to do so because of love, trust and respect. In return, I will be responsible and not do anything stupid.

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